Flying high above Europe's economic crisis, a lightning-fast pigeon named Bolt became the world's most expensive racing bird when his Belgian breeder sold it for €310,000 (HK$3.1 million) to a Chinese businessman.
The one-year-old - named after Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, and with an outstanding pedigree of proven champions to match - was the latest Belgian-bred pigeon to claim record prices. Yet it surprised everyone involved in the sport, auction house Pipa said.
The previous record for a sale of a single bird stood at €250,000 from January 2012.
"I was stunned by the prices offered," Pipa CEO Nikolaas Gyselbrecht said yesterday.
At a time when a crisis is holding Europe in an ever tighter grip, a feathered handful of prime fowl of some 450 grams is reaching unparalleled levels. The full auction of the Leo Heremans coop - 530 birds in all - also yielded a world record of €4.345 million, more than double the previous record from last year.
"One of the reasons there is no economic impact is that buyers are spread around the globe," Gyselbrecht said. "Over 20 countries were bidding last weekend. So if there is a crisis in one country, it might be less so in another", levelling out a downturn in Europe.
Nine of the 10 top birds went to China or Taiwan, "and the crisis is a lot less acute there than out here", Gyselbrecht said.
On top of that, breeder Heremans is known as perhaps the best around. "It was pretty clear something special would happen," said Gyselbrecht.
It is a combination that is increasingly popular: the breeding acumen of Belgian fanciers and the financial clout of Chinese aficionados.
Two years ago, too, a world record was set when Belgium's Blue Prince went to China for €156,000. Now, the price of the best bird has doubled.
From generation to generation, breeding secrets were handed down within Belgian families, while racing did not get tougher than in Belgium. Bloodlines were essential for performance. Over the weekend, Bolt's parents fetched a combined €184,000. Yet in the 21st century, breeding pigeons is hardly sexy for today's European youngsters, and the number of Belgian fanciers has almost fallen tenfold to some 27,000, said Gyselbrecht.
While quantity may be dwindling, though, quality is not.
"Those who have continued have also become much more professional," Gyselbrecht said.
Meanwhile, at the other side of the world, in the Far East, interest is booming. And part of the attraction is the huge prize money that is involved.
The birds have become so precious that Bolt has flown his last race already, one year after being picked as Belgium's National Ace Speed Young Birds 2012. Once in China, he will be used for breeding only.
"He's had his last competitive flight already," said Gyselbrecht.